Enthusiasm by Polly Schulman

Enthusiasm, by Polly Schulman. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006, 198 pages. 

Reading Level: Young Adult, ages 12-15

Maturity Level: 5 (ages 12-14)

Bottom Line: Enthusiasm, a modern-day takeoff on Pride and Prejudice, is a fun romantic read that bears no relation to reality.

There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast.  I speak from bitter experience.  My best friend and next door neighbor, Ashleigh Marie Rossi, is an Enthusiast.

In the 18th-century milieu that this introduction recalls, “enthusiasm” meant religious excess.  Ashleigh Rossi is not especially religious, but she is excessive: she inhabits her passions, and her latest passion is Jane Austen. After falling hard for the fictional Mr. Darcy, she throws herself–along with her friend and our narrator Julie Leftowitz–into a quest for a real one.  After all, isn’t it a truth universally acknowledged, that a single guy in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a girlfriend?  The most likely place for Darcy-hunting is the local boy’s prep school, Forefield Academy, where Ashley drags Julie, both suitably attired, to crash the annual Columbus Cotillion.  As it happens, each girl meets her Darcy at the dance, though she may not know it yet.  What follows is an Austenish plot of frustrated affection, mistaken intention, and misdirected connection that ends well, with both couples perfectly matched.

Realistic fiction it’s not.  Contemporary female readers will wonder where to find the gentlemanly young men that Julie and Ashleigh fortuitously encounter in the third chapter.  Even though Julie is dealing with the long-term effects of her parents’ divorce and the kids communicate by email and occasionally someone drops a mild profanity or sexual innuendo, their world seems quaint.  Too bad: I would have liked my daughter to meet Charles Grandison Parr, who writes sonnets, sings show tunes, and has turquoise eyes, a deep dimple and lots of money.  What he doesn’t have is Mr. Darcy’s closely-guarded pride, a character flaw that had to be overcome in the course of Jane Austen’s novel.  But Austen was writing about a real society, while Polly Shulman sets before us a costume comedy-drama.  That’s probably all she intends; just don’t take it seriously, young ladies.

Cautions: Language (small amount of mild profanity), Sensuality (sexual innuendo)

Overall Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic value: 3.75

Categories: Romance, Young Adult, Literature, Humor


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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.


  1. emily on June 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    The great thing about Austen knock-offs is that if they are only half as good as the original, they’re still better than most novels out there!

  2. Brandy on June 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    You are right about Enthusiasm being costume comedy drama but I loved every moment I spent reading it. It was so much fun! I like Shulman’s other novel, The Grimm Legacy, even more.

    Emily, what you say is true but then there are all the other ones way less than half as good that just make you want to never read another Austen knock off again. In my experience the latter has outnumbered the former.

    I might give Prom and Prejudice a try after reading this. I had been avoiding it.

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